Tuesday, September 9, 2014

What is my "average weekly wage" (AWW)? How is it determined, and why does it matter?

The amount of an employee's weekly work comp checks is tied to what the law calls the average weekly wage (AWW).  Why do you care about this?  You care because the higher a person's AWW, the more money they may ultimately get for their injuries.

The three methods for determining a worker's AWW are set out in OCGA §34-9-260 and they are as follows:

First way:  The primary way is to take the average of the worker's gross weekly wages (meaning before taxes and any deductions are taken out) for the 13 weeks preceding the date of accident.  You just add them up and divide by 13.  For example, if a worker had gross earnings of $3,575.00 for the 13 weeks before his accident, then his AWW for work comp purposes will be $275.00 (which is 3,575 divided by 13).

Second way:  If a worker did not work for the employer for "substantially the whole" of the 13 week period before his accident, then he doesn't have 13 weeks of wages and you can't use the first method. If that happens, the second way to determine AWW is to use the wages of a "similarly situated employee." This means that you try to find another worker who did basically the same job for the 13 weeks before the accident date and you then use that worker's wages to determine the AWW.

Last way:  If either of the first two ways cannot "reasonably and fairly be applied," then the law says you must use the "full time weekly wage" of the employee.  Some people refer to this as the "contract for hire."  It is essentially the deal cut between the employer and employee when the work began.  For example, if an Joe is told by his new employer that he will be paid $10 per hour and will work a 40 hour work week, then the full time weekly wage would be $400.00 and that would be his AWW.

This is a simplified explanation of §34-9-260, and the calculation can be affected by other factors. One such factor is whether your employer pays for lodging and meals (as is common for employees who work away from their home city on a job).  If they do, then you can add the value of those things to the actual wages earned to get a higher AWW.  This can make a big difference in AWW.

Another trick is to look and see if a worker has any concurrent similar employment.  This basically means, did he/she do the same job for multiple employers during the 13 weeks before the injury?  For example, if a man worked as a store clerk three days a week for one employer and then worked another three days as a clerk for a second employer, you can add the wages from both employers to get a higher AWW.  This can also make a big difference.

Getting the highest AWW you can is important.  There is a direct correlation between your AWW and the amount of your weekly checks.  Higher AWW = higher checks.  It can also have a big effect on the amount of your settlement.  If two workers have identical injuries, but one has a much higher AWW, then that worker's case is likely to have a much better settlement value than the other.

So, pay attention to how your AWW is calculated.  Doing it correctly can have a real financial impact on your case.

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